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Parenting Stew

April 12, 2010

I’ve been staring at this quilt for over four years now, while lurching and creaking in our rocking chair, nursing someone or other. It’s almost like a photo spread from Mothering Magazine – the pink cheeked baby gazing at her well-rested, serene Mama (not a wrinkle or stretch mark in sight), homemade dolls lined up in the antique cradle and oak floors shining like a woodsy skating rink. Except, we’re that same scene after you send in the 5-year old boys, or the team of feral cats or the covey of rats who stash old noodles in the corner. We’ve got the oak floors, though they’re pocked and scratched from all the sand that’s migrated from the sandbox via Col’s socks, underwear and fingernails, onto our floors, then spread and compacted by hardworking Tonka tires.

Scattered around the rocking chair are Rose’s board books, which on a rare day, someone actually remembers to read to her, and on a more typical day, simply get stuck under the rocking chair runners. There are always a few other oddball items that no one has touched in five months. I can only hope the flotsam gets picked up in the new household enterprise: garbage trucks. This game entails the kids loading trucks with wooden blocks, plastic farm animals, harmonicas and rubber bands and then dumping the whole pile in some undisclosed place. Dan and I watch the trucks whiz past us with their third full load and wearily call out “don’t forget – you’ll have to put everything back.” Which might be a little like an editor reminding me as I’m joyfully and frantically writing “don’t forget – you’re going to have to edit that mess.”

But the quilt! This gorgeous quilt was made for Col by Ellen Singer Vine, a dear friend of my parents who raised three boys of her own. First I nursed Col while gazing at this colorful quilt, cradling his small body while his oxygen cord swayed back and forth with the rhythm of the rocking chair. (There were so many cords back then! The ubiquitous oxygen cord, affixed to his moon face with skin-chafing “sticky tabs.” Also, the cord to his ever-beeping, pulse-oximeter, used to measure the oxygen saturation of his blood. And the nebulizer—hookah for asthmatics—its cord buzzing bronchial-dilating medicine into his lungs).

Col was always such a small boy, never—and still not—earning a pediatrician’s pen mark anywhere on that blue-graphed ocean of a growth chart. Col’s inked circles always floated below that lowest blue line, in the vast no-man’s land below the chart, where your child appears to be drowning instead of surfing the wave. (A sweet friend used to say in a Casey Casum radio voice: Col’s off the charts!).

That pre-bed nursing was like the last gas station on Hwy 50 in Nevada, the final chance for calories, a place to make up for the dismal half a fig newton that passed for dinner. Each night I had enough foolish hope that this night the switch would flip and Col would chug away like those insatiable babies plumping up by the day. Col approached that last fill up like all the other nursings: a nice way to fall asleep. And I’d stare at that quilt while he nursed, my belly churning with that nauseating mix of hope that he may begin to grow and fear that he wouldn’t and a small, heavy weight like a lead bullet in my gut that knew there was probably nothing I could do.

And Rose? We’ve nursed in that same rocking chair—while the colors of that quilt merge and pulse—over 2000 times in the past 2 ½ years. With her my troubles are utterly mundane. My leg falls asleep, that spot on my back I can’t reach itches, I notice I’ve forgotten to brush her hair for another week. Rose was one of those insatiable babies! She spit up canals of milk because as the lactation consultant said, Rose—at 14 days old!—overate. At four months she drained me like she had been thirsty for years. Just this morning she ate half an avocado and as many spoonfuls of peanut butter as I’d allow. Now I stare at that same quilt wondering: will this girl ever get full?

Parenting is like making your favorite stew. You chop the carrots and onions into perfect bite sized chunks; you sprinkle in wholesome videos, nature time, spf 30, and chore charts. Simmer all day. Then, when you dig into a steaming bowl you find that each bite contains a chewy surprise that you didn’t add. Maybe it’s more delicious than you imagined; or maybe there’s an inedible piece of gristle that keeps finding its way to your spoon. But you keep eating, willing to be fed by the unexpected.

*afternote: Col is now a great eater, happily swallowing his daily roadkill and chard pie. He is also still on the petite side of small. But, I no longer choke down that nauseating mix of hope and fear that once was my nightly cocktail. Now I know there’s nothing I can or should do, other than cherish his loveliness every blessed day.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2010 9:57 am

    I love the ingredients in your kiddo stew … and the powerful metaphor that the recipe turns out a little differently each time, still delicious in its own way. (Also, I hear roadkill packs a powerful nutrient punch.) =>

  2. April 12, 2010 10:06 am

    Great metaphor, gorgeous words.

    I will never be able to eat stew again without seeing my little girl in bits or carrot and onion. Nonetheless, it will be delicious, if not more so.

  3. Melissa permalink
    April 12, 2010 11:18 am

    oh, i love this.

    i know just what you mean about that nasty tape that keeps tubes on babies’ faces . . . from my work (i am a social worker at the children’s hospital at ucsf) . . . and also the growth charts. i work in the g.i. clinic, too, and i feel buckets for the pain on parents’ faces when faced with kidswho have “fallen” off those stupid charts. i am also in the workroom when the providers are looking at those charts before we even go into the room to meet the family and see them forming opinions based on those charts and feel frustrated. don’t get me wrong, i like my job, but i am a mama first and that’s my frame of reference, so . . .

    we have wall hanging over avi’s crib, a beautiful embroidered piece from oaxaca that serves a similar purpose for my musings . . . now i sit in that chair and read endless books before bed and we talk about how we used to nurse in that chair . . . and i wonder what kind of nurser “baby sister” will be . . .i love how you capture it all!

  4. April 12, 2010 1:28 pm

    These was just the words I needed to read today. My younger son has recently decided that his once insatiable appetite for nursing must take a back seat to his insatiable appetite to see everything and everyone else in the house at all times.

    I was just wondering last night whether I should help him along on the process of weaning. But your post conjured images of my own rocking chair and our own quilt that hangs in the boys’ room – and I think the answer is, Not yet, little man. Not yet.

    Beautiful post. Thanks, Rachel.

  5. April 12, 2010 1:50 pm

    this is just brilliant! sorry for the pun, but i ate up every bit of this!!

  6. April 12, 2010 2:00 pm

    Isn’t it amazing how a certain item can conjur up memories and feelings that are forever burned in your mind? Definitely “A piece of your personal history” (your words!)

    The dichotomy between Col and Rose is one of the things that we as parents are privileged to observe – with front row seats.

    I love it! Great post.

  7. April 12, 2010 10:12 pm

    I loved your story. Our daughter, Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer last year with liver mets. Her son was only 7 months old when she had to ween him from breastfeeding. I am in awe of the great moms I come across and you’re definitely at the top. Thanks for commenting on my blog and allowing me to get to know you.

  8. April 12, 2010 10:15 pm

    Wow – you are awesome!
    That first paragraph is totally me.
    I loved every word of this (as usual)

  9. April 12, 2010 11:04 pm

    What a beautiful piece. I read it twice. :)

    Theo hasn’t been on the chart since his 4 month check up. Reading about Col now gives me great hope.

  10. April 13, 2010 8:01 am

    What a beautiful post. And an amazing “growth” story! Yay Col! (Gorgeous quilt, too :))

  11. April 13, 2010 5:55 pm

    Oh, wow, all around.

  12. Jen permalink
    April 13, 2010 8:21 pm

    Beautiful!
    Parent stew at our house always seems to have large chunks of crow in it – leftover from those dangerously superior parenting statements one makes (particularly prior to having a child), that start with “no child of mine will ever…” (insert activity such as “sleep in my bed” “watch tv so I can get something done” “wear disposable diapers/camoflage prints/pink things with cute sayings” “eat jar food” etc etc).
    We like to follow it up with humble pie.

  13. April 13, 2010 9:40 pm

    This post was a pleasure to read and so needed after one of those really rough (horrid?) parenting days.
    And below, we have an abundance of yogurt and chard too. No complaints from me! Thanks for the recipe!
    Nicola

  14. April 14, 2010 12:37 am

    So beautifully written. You are a poet….the ocean of a growth chart, the parent stew…there’s so much to explore and taste as a mama. Wonder what it’ll feel like for you to hold a grandkid and stare at that quilt.

    So much love at 6512. xo from 3000 and some change.

  15. April 14, 2010 11:08 am

    Leo has always hovered at the very bottom of the chart (I still puzzle over how *anyone* can be “off” a chart that is supposed to represent the full range of a given cohort). I used to agonize about his size but then I started asking myself how a kid so full of energy and life could be anything but healthy. You put it beautifully: “Now I know there’s nothing I can or should do, other than cherish his loveliness every blessed day.”

  16. April 17, 2010 2:16 pm

    Since my twins have never even come close to being ” on the chart,” I console myself with the theory that all of the overweight, happy-meals twice a day kids in America are messing up the curve for the healthier home-fed crowd. It was a happy day when I got our family doctor to admit that there is a strong possibility that this is true!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      April 17, 2010 9:25 pm

      I like that theory; makes sense to me.

  17. April 18, 2010 1:19 pm

    There is so much to be nourished by in this post — the sheer amount of time we spend with our children, the gorgeous labyrinthian colors of that quilt, how our children are their own people, different from us, from each other, the hope and fears of a mother…

    My son, too, is not on the chart. He’s not in the “normal” range, but like an earlier commenter said, I choose to take the definition of “normal” with a grain of salt… Who is this chart based on? We thankfully always had a doctor who emphasized that though he was small he was growing and developing normally, and that it mattered what I thought, and what I saw in him. He does grow. Slowly and surely.

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